10 January 2020

Oyster bounty from South Coast waters unlikely to be affected by ash

| Lisa Herbert
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South coast oysters

The clever oyster seems to be efficiently filtering the ash from fires. Photo: Lisa Herbert.

A layer of black ash from bushfires has settled on the far south coast, coating cars, gardens, streets, homes. It has been floating ominously on the surface of our oceans and settling slowly onto the seafloor. But it’s not as bad as it looks.

News from the NSW Food Authority’s Shellfish Program, and feedback from many growers on our South Coast, indicates there are no immediate issues regarding the effects of ash on our oysters.

Growers will continue their constant, regular testing, and also “event testing”. Many will commence harvesting again this week.

Greg Carton of Broadwater Oysters has opened and tasted many of his crop and there doesn’t seem to be any ash in the guts or the gills of these efficient molluscs.

“They’re amazing, so fingers crossed,” he says.

Gary and Jo Rodely’s shop Tathra Oysters is open and trading. Gary and his son Sam have been out on the farm and re-commenced harvesting Thursday. This is great news for the industry and the locals.

Gary Rodely of Tathra Oysters

Gary Rodely of Tathra Oysters checks his crop. Photo: Lisa Herbert.

It’s not easy for growers to predict what might happen with the oysters. As Gary says, “there are not many precedents for this, so we were all unsure. We have heard of oysters dying with exposure to fires very close to the farms”.

“We weren’t harvesting because of the ash in the water, and we were hoping that a few flushes of the lake will clean everything out. That has proven to be the case!

“We’ll make sure everything’s right; at least it’s not an issue like E-coli. The long-term effects of the nitrogen in the ash may mean future algal blooms, but we constantly test for that.”

More good news is that as they are grown in open water so the mussels produced in Eden Mussels’ beds will be affected even less than estuarine-grown oysters.

Greg Carton of Pambula’s Broadwater Oysters says this year’s season is “busted”.

“Usually at this time of year we are dealing full-on with tourists. We’re losing around $100k of trade over this period. We’ve asked our staff to take their holidays, and anyway, we’ll be home this weekend preparing to defend our property.”

The Broadwater Oyster team

The Broadwater Oyster team in happier times at the Narooma Oyster Festival 2019. Photo: Lisa Herbert.

Greg and his partner Sue McIntyre’s property lies in the path of the Border Fire. As well as business woes, they are worried about today’s temperatures and wind.

With no end to the South Coast’s tourist ban in sight, oyster producers have been giving away many opened oysters.

Jacqui Smith of Wheelers Restaurant was out and about hand delivering around 80 dozen oysters to people in the Merimbula area over the weekend, including evacuees and “people working hard in the community”.

Gary and Jo Rodely took 25 dozen oysters to the Tathra RFS depot recently and delivered many to the Bega evacuation centre. They were extremely well received. “One guy queuing for a meal said to me it’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for him,” says Gary.

“If you see our sign out, it means we’ve tested everything and we’re good to go!” It’s a sentiment echoed by Greg Carton and the team at Broadwater Oysters.

“We have great faith in the Shellfish Program, but it’s going to take a long time for people to get their confidence back,” says Greg. “We’d appreciate as much support as possible.”

Many locals are out spending money on food and goods in our towns.

“There are people coming in, saying they hadn’t really thought of oysters but saw our sign and decided to spend. It’s great that people are shopping locally,” enthuses Jo Rodely.

From the Eden Mussel beds in Eden, along the coastal estuaries to the Pacific Oyster farms of the Shoalhaven, there are oyster farmers needing us to eat as many of these clever little molluscs as possible. I’ve said it before, I’m happy to take one or two for the team!

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